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Coconut Creek police chief retires after complaints of ‘toxic morale’ in the force

South Florida Sun Sentinel - 5/7/2024

Police Chief Albert “Butch” Arenal is leaving his job days after city leaders vowed “action will be taken” and called a public meeting to discuss the complaints of problems at the police department.

Late Monday afternoon, City Manager Sheila Rose said in an email statement she “announces the upcoming retirement” of Police Chief Albert “Butch” Arenal effective June 20.

An interim police chief will be appointed by the end of this week, “ensuring a smooth transition as the city continues to prioritize public safety and internal cohesion,” Rose said in the prepared statement.

The decision for Arenal’s retirement came after a consulting firm’s report dated April 22 that cited that “sentiments of a negative and toxic morale were overwhelmingly expressed, and not simply by a small group or subsect of the employees, but by over 80% of the employees interviewed and consistent among both civilian and officer personnel at various position levels.” The report also said some officers indicated they were publicly berated and there were allegations of inappropriate comments by the chief, including him being accused of repeatedly using the term “black ass.”

Arenal told investigators he could only recall using that phrase once, saying it was a colloquial term used on the west coast of Florida to describe a malcontent employee. He said it doesn’t have any racial connotation.

On Friday, soon after the report was publicly released, City Commissioner Joshua Rydell vowed “action will be taken” within the police department. On Tuesday, he called the chief’s departure “bittersweet” because the chief had improved community relationships during his tenure.

Still, “at the end the day we always have to be accountable. I look forward to moving forward.”

Said Mayor Sandra Welch: “Given the circumstances, I appreciate his letter of retirement.”

She said the decision came after a meeting with Rose and Arenal on Monday, and then “I heard immediately that that was his intention.”

City Manager Sheila Rose did not respond to two emails Monday and Tuesday. Arenal could not be reached for comment despite calls to his cellphone.

Arenal was hired in 2015 to lead the agency, replacing a chief who resigned at the city manager’s request after officers used a stun gun on an unarmed man, stunning him 10 times within 10 minutes. The case, ruled a homicide, was settled for $750,000 in 2017.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sunsentinel.com. Follow on X, formerly Twitter, @LisaHuriash

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